The Myth of Small Government

A cornerstone of conservative politics is a preference for 'smaller government'. Submitted for your consideration is a question: Is the notion of small government real or a convenient (possibly even a dangerous) myth?

It's a bit simplistic but essentially Mankind has been governed by four forces throughout history: mysticism, power, money and the law. None is a perfect solution with each saddled with limitations and dangers. At different times, the relative proportion of influence exerted by any one of these forces varies and it is also true that certain of these forces may co-opt others. Examples of the latter include theocracy's and authoritarian states. Mysticism, power or money based systems of power tend to corrupt their legals systems either by enacting new laws which further their reach or eliminating those extant laws which might mitigate or check their influence and power.

The fallacy in the small government philosophy is the assumption that less government (fewer laws) equates with reduced overall control in our lives. I.e., the other governing forces won't just expand to fill the resultant gap. History suggests that this may not be the result. Nor can we simply depend upon our neighbors good intentions.

It also ignore the real possibility that these other governance forces may benefit directly from an elimination of legal restrictions to their power. This seems particularly true of our recent history.

A potentially valid assessment of the Reagan/Bush era is that reduced government simply lead to a greater proportion of our governance being handed off to economic interests outside of public oversight. As the current greed driven collapse of the economy suggests, this may have been a Faustian bargain.

My preference is the law, or the judicious use of representative government as a check on the other three. The law and government is an imperfect solution no doubt. A frustrating aspect of the law and governmental influences is that they are often affected by a wide range of divergent interests resulting in slow progress and inherent compromise. But these compromises may prevent power from becoming too concentrated in the hands of a few - the usual outcome of economic governance such as that we we have now. It is precisely this frustrating and inefficient pull from all sides which can check governmental power, and which is dangerously absent from any of the other options.


Michael Lockridge said...

I don't particularly care if I am liberal or conservative. I want to largely be left alone. Government is intrusive, and I don't like it.

It is also necessary. My neighbor may also be intrusive, and a form of government can help contain that. In an ideal form it can provide a framework for my neighbor and I to work together for common well being.

Government is prone to endless self-replication, expanded intrusion, and subject to corruption.

For the most part, having been disappointed by the Democrats and Republicans, I vote Libertarian.I do so in no real hope of winning, but rather to serve as part of a challenge to the ruling party at any given time.

The world grows ever smaller, and freedom is in ever growing danger. The cause of Liberty must ever be put forward and protected. Even a benevolent tyrant is still a tyrant.

I agree that one of the greatest qualities of our current system is the limitation of power and the constant flux that keeps any given group of idiot idealists from holding power for too long.

May the flux hold, and a well-ordered chaos maintained!


Pliny-the-in-Between said...

May the flux be with us! I like that one Mike - I may borrow it ;)